From Kemi Yesufu, Abuja The decision to retain health maintenance organisations (HMOs) as part of the country’s health insurance programme caused a major disagreement between the House of Representatives Committee on Health Services and the executive secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof. Yusuf Usman. Usman, at the just concluded two-day investigative hearing…
• The story of Bola, in Orile area of Lagos
By Sunday Ani
For most residents of Lagos State, Doyin area of Orile, in Orile-Iganmu Local Government Area, may not be a popular place, except for the people living around Bode Thomas area of Surulere, Ijora, Amukoko and Mile 2 axis.
Even for residents within those areas, only a few know that apart from being a known bus-stop and a spot where fruits, such as oranges and watermelons are sold in bulk as well as a refuse dumpsite, tens of Nigerians live and eke their living on the garbage site all through the year.
Doyin boasts of a refuse site that stretches over 100 metres on the right hand side, from Mile 2 end. From investigation, the site is a legally approved dumpsite for residents of Orile and its neighbourhood. Located in-between the site is a quadrangle, which serves as orange and watermelon market. The fruit market is so busy, especially during the morning hours, that buyers and sellers defy the offensive ordour oozing out from the refuse site, as they carry out their daily transaction. That is what many people know Doyin for – a place where massive refuse are dumped and where people sell watermelons and oranges.
However, behind the fruit market is an enclave simply referred to as Bola. The activity in the fruit market blurs people’s vision and knowledge of what happens behind it. Bola is a village on the dumpsite. It remains a miracle how people survive living in such a filthy environment.
The inhabitants of Bola don’t give a hoot about the stench or possible outbreak of an epidemic. A visit to Bola will leave one with the conclusion that it is either the inhabitants no longer possess functional olfactory lobes or they are accustomed to the stench, which it freely oozes. Inside the Bola villa, one comes face to face with young, ebullient, energetic and youthful Nigerians, who have decided to defy all odds to make a living on the refuse site. In spite of hordes of mosquitoes, flies and rodents, such as rats of all kinds and sizes, amphibious animals such as frogs, toads and even snakes, cockroaches, ants and numerous other crawling and flying insects as well as other scavengers among others, they still live there.
The presence of pigs, foraging on the site is a clear testimony that Bola is no less than a pigsty and the swine are just not giving in at all because, naturally, that is where they belong.
When Daily Sun visited Bola villa, there were about 50 makeshift tents, providing accommodation to tens of youths, who live and do business there. They were built in clusters as well as in lotus positions towards the border edge of Babalola community. The houses are either made of tarpaulins, nylons or mosquito nets hung on woods suspended in rectangular and square forms. Although, some are constructed, using mosquito nets, it makes no meaning because the tents do not have doors. That automatically exposes the occupants to mosquitoes, just as those living in the tents made of tarpaulins or nylon materials. That also makes it easy for anybody to have a general view of the internal appurtenances of the houses. The inside is often decorated with old, faded and weak rug carpets, small wooden table upon which television and video sets are placed. In some places, there is no television or video set, but often, small transistor radio. Outside the tents are generator sets, which provide electricity with which the electronic gadgets are powered.
The back of Bola enclave borders the Babalola community in Orile. A resident of Bablola, who simply gave his name as Lucky, told our reporter that Bola is entirely a different world on its own.
According to the young man, “here is another world entirely. They do everything there. It is just like a company for waste materials. They live there, sleep there, do business there, rock life there and, in fact, do everything that life offers there.”
Asked where the residents come from, and whether they pay rent, he said: “Well, all I know is that they are Nigerians, but mainly from a particular part of the country. It seems they pay to some of the touts around, but I am not really sure. However, you can also ask them whether they pay to anybody; that is if they are willing to talk to you.”
Efforts to find out if the inhabitants really pay rent proved abortive, as they became suspicious of the question from our reporter and decided to keep mum. In short, they told our reporter that they didn’t pay any rent because the place is a refuse dumpsite.
“We no dey pay anything. We just dey stay here dey do our business,” they responded in pidgin English.
Road to Bola
The road to the Bola villa is one laced with various tissues of dirt along a swampy gangway. A first timer would wade through the gangway, tiptoeing because it is not a normal ground. The marshy dirt mainly of tissues of papers, rubber slippers, empty cartons, and papers, planks of wood and nylon materials of all colours cover the waterlogged quicksand along the gangway.
A close observation of the garbage on the pathway shows that they must have been deliberately provided to cover the swampy ground. As one wades through the pathways, marching on empty nylon materials, some globules of bacteria cum fungi-infested brackish water would splash around, forcing one to tread cautiously.
Life inside Bola
As soon as one wades through the squelchy gangway into the heart of Bola, a potpourri of activities immediately catches one’s attention, ranging from music blaring through the air to high pitch sound of the audio-video movies as well as those who are busy packaging the article of trade, which Bola is known for. Apart from all those, there were clusters of boys, discussing on top of their voices and laughing hilariously as if they were in a recreational park. Once you are inside the enclave, except for the odour and the sight of heaps of refuse everywhere, you would think that you are in a normal terrain because the inhabitants are just simply at home with the environment. They just love the environment the way it is, judging from the way they carry on or so it seems.
Further investigation revealed that Bola was full of activities all round the clock. The bulk of the business that goes on in this small community is gathering, packaging and selling of used empty plastic bottles, particularly that of table water. They gather all kinds of used plastic containers, assemble them and tie them up inside thick white nylon bags, while buyers go for them. Even from the road leading to Lagos Island from Orile, one could see mountains of the already packaged products, waiting for evacuation as soon as they are bought. They also sell fairly used rug carpets, foams and empty cans of mineral water, malt and beer of all types, chairs, plastic buckets, plates, cups and books, among other household property.
Checks revealed that buyers brought in their trucks for loading mostly at night. However, others prefer to load the products during the day.
Aside from what the inhabitants of Bola do for livelihood, there are other activities they engage in so as to forget about the odds in the environment in which they find themselves. According to one Yusuf Gbolahan, who said he regularly visited the enclave at night, “in the night, various life activities go on. Apart from vehicles that come to load goods here at night, movies of all kinds are shown throughout the night. I always go there to relax and see movies because it is free. But, just as some see movies all through the night, others enjoy music of all kinds in their various tents as you can see.”
Investigation revealed that even though immoral activity, like sex trade is absent in Bola, the same could not be said of hard substance. That explains why it attracts a large number of young men at night.
Gbolahan confirmed this much, when he said: “They rock life 24 hours here. They sell such hard substance as marijuana just as groundnut is sold out there but that is always at night. Like I said earlier, I come here to see movies till daybreak because it is free, so I can authoritatively tell you about that. The only thing that does not happen here is prostitution. You cannot also talk about rape here. It is free of all those, at least, for now. Anybody who wants sex can always go to Ijora but not here in Bola.”
Facts also emerged that as small, insignificant and obscure as Bola is, it is replete with night visitors. A source aptly captured Bola thus: “Night is day and day is night at Bola. But, only very few persons know about Bola; not even many people who do business in Orile market or around the Doyin area know about the place. It is, indeed, on a refuse dumpsite but it is full of life.”
Secrecy of the business
The inhabitants of Bola are very sensitive to strange faces. It appears they know regular faces that visit the place and once they see a strange face, they become as wise as serpent, with regard to how they relate with the supposed strange person. This seems so because our reporter’s efforts to pose as a buyer so as to extract information about their business did not produce much result.
When our reporter approached a middle-aged man, who identified himself as Malami and asked him how they did the business, he retorted: “You want buy, abi you want to sell?” When our reporter told him that he wanted to buy, he directed him to another person, who became suspicious of our reporter’s mission from his ostensibly strange face. He asked: “How many bags do you want to buy?”
Noticing the apprehension on his face, our reporter calmed him down with the assurance that he was not a security agent or a government official but a real businessman, who actually wanted to patronise them. At that point, he relaxed a bit and went on, saying: “This one tied with nylon is sold for N100 per bag but this jumbo bag is sold for N350 because the bag will last for some time before it tears. The other one made of joined sacks is sold for N250. The bag is sewn here. After you have bought, you will bring the vehicle and the boys to load it for you. You will also have to register before you are allowed to buy here.”
At the mention of registration before transaction could be made, our reporter remembered the initial inquiry on whether they paid rent to anybody. But, the man became suspicious again and denied knowledge of how much the registration was. Instead he directed our reporter to another young man, whom he referred to as their chairman. He said: “You have to register with our chairman before you can buy, but I don’t know how much they collect. That ‘yellow boy’ over there is our chairman; go to him and find out how much buyers are expected to pay for registration.”
When the said chairman, who declined to give his name, was approached, he also tactically withdrew from making any meaningful statement, when he said: “The person wey go register you travelled and until he comes back, you cannot buy. I don’t even know how much the registration costs. Thank you.”
By the entrance to Bola, our reporter encountered some awe-looking young men, who appeared frail, shabbily dressed, disheveled and red-eyed, guzzling down some bottles of beer. They looked testy and spoke in deep, baritone voices capable of scaring the daredevil out of first-timers, as they puffed substance suspected to be marijuana. They cared less about who passed by in spite of the fact that they were consuming an illegal substance. The caution, panache and dignity with which they moulded the wraps of marijuana, using their saliva to line the edge of the special paper into which the substances are put before rolling them up, showed that they were in control of the affairs around the vicinity.
Further investigation revealed that they were the same boys referred to as touts, who are believed to be collecting rent from the inhabitants of Bola.